The first of November is a great day of celebration in the Church as we honor all of the saints. St. Bernard of Clairvaux, a French abbot and Doctor of the Church, explained that we do not honor the saints because they need our prayers or our praise, but rather because we need their example and their help. They pray for us and inspire us by the witness of their lives to generously live the gospel. Thinking about the saints also helps remind us that there is more to life than just this world. We are called to eternal life with God and all the saints in heaven.
We need the witness of saints, both those who have gone before us and those who currently live in our midst. The saints show us by their example that living the gospel is possible. The gospel is not some high ideal that is impossible to put into practice. Holiness of life is within the reach of every person and we are called to holiness today. The saints based their lives on Jesus and they are now in heaven praying for us and cheering us on as a “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb. 12:1) and they greatly desire that we join their company.
Now, we might easily get discouraged if we think of how holy the saints were and how far from that degree of holiness and virtue we seem to be at this moment, but the saints would probably be the first to tell you that they had their own struggles. Mother Angelica once commented that one of the most gorgeous statues she ever saw was of Padre Pio. What attracted her to it was the grouchy look on his face. She said she could relate to that, so she bought it. She would say: “He has the most beautiful, grumpy look on his face. See, that’s my kind of saint. I want a saint that struggles like I do.”
“We might easily get discouraged if we think of how holy the saints were and how far from that degree of holiness and virtue we seem to be at this moment, but the saints would probably be the first to tell you that they had their own struggles.”
Now, the fact that the saints struggled and encountered many difficulties in life is an encouragement to us who have to overcome our own struggles with the help of God’s grace. What did they do to become holy? St. Thomas Aquinas, when asked what one needed to do to become a saint, replied very simply: “Will it!” The saints desired to grow in holiness and they cooperated with the grace of God to do so.
So what does a saint look like? Again, Mother Angelica would add, “A saint is one who empties himself and takes on the image of Jesus, so that person and Jesus are look-alikes…. A saint’s goal is to get as close to God as he can.” The saints, therefore, sought to imitate Christ by a generous daily commitment to prayer and by a life of heroic virtue.
There are many traits commonly found in the saints that can serve as examples for us to follow. First of all, they were whole-heartedly in love with God. You could say that they were “God-centered” and that their love for God was shown in their love for neighbor. The saints also lived the gospel and they can be seen as “living commentaries” of Scripture because they often read the Bible, meditated upon it, and sought to put the Word of God into action in their daily lives. They were also serious about repentance and conversion. They worked hard to root out sin from their lives and any other obstacles that were not leading them closer to God.
“A saint is one who empties himself and takes on the image of Jesus, so that person and Jesus are look-alikes…. A saint’s goal is to get as close to God as he can.” -Mother M. Angelica
On the other hand, they tried to put St. Paul’s words into action by being more intentional and striving to do everything “for the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). In addition, the saints were absolutely determined to do God’s will. They did not simply desire to grow in holiness, but rather acted on that desire in practical and concrete ways. In his book entitled Saints: A Closer Look, Fr. Thomas Dubay wrote: “Saints say, ‘With God’s grace I will be better, and I will begin right now. I will get rid of my vanities and my laziness. I will stop gossiping and overeating. I will stop procrastinating. I will take means to see that these changes do occur soon.”
The saints also greatly loved the Church and rather than abandon her in difficult moments, they sought reform in the midst of various crises throughout her history. One of the best responses in a time of crisis is to become a saint, to seek to overcome evil with good (Rom. 12:21). The saints also were witnesses of joy as they sought to rejoice in the Lord always (Phil. 4:4). They exhibited that joy which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and which Jesus desired to share with us when he said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (Jn 15:11). Each of us will experience the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5) to the degree that we strive to live our faith and the holy gospel.
God desires that each of us become saints. Can I say that it is truly my goal to become a saint and enjoy eternal life with God in heaven? If not, why not? If so, what concrete resolutions am I going to make today to grow in my prayer life and in union with God? The saints who have gone before us and have finished the race are praying for us and their lives are an example of virtue to imitate. We can find encouragement in what St. John Vianney once noted: “The saints have not all started well, but they have all finished well.” May we finish like these heavenly friends of ours who have gone before us. All you saints in heaven, pray for us!